SETI Alien Contact
The Search for Life in the Universe

SETI Alien Contact
The Search for Life in the Universe

Extraterrestrial life is defined as life that does not originate from Earth. It is unknown whether any such life exists or ever existed in the past, although many scientists think it is likely that on Mars, for instance, life either exists or has existed.

Various claims have been made for evidence of extraterrestrial life, such as those listed in a 2006 New Scientist article, which the magazine describes as "hints" rather than proof.

A less direct argument for the existence of extraterrestrial life relies on the vast size of the observable universe.

According to this argument, endorsed by Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, it would be improbable for life not to exist somewhere other than Earth.

The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.

We believe we are conducting the most profound search in human history — to know our beginnings and our place among the stars.

The trend to assume that celestial bodies were populated almost by default was tempered as actual probes visited potential alien abodes in the Solar System beginning in the second half of the 20th century.

At the same time, the beginning Space Age was accompanied by a surge of UFO reports, particularly in the United States, during the 1950s.

The term UFO itself was coined in 1952 in the context of the enormous popularity of the concept of "flying saucers" in the wake of the Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting in 1947.

The moon was decisively ruled out as a possibility, while Venus and Mars, long the two main candidates for extraterrestrials, showed no obvious evidence of current life.

The other large moons of our system which have been visited appear, to our knowledge, similarly lifeless, though the interesting geothermic forces observed (Io's volcanism, Europa's ocean, Titan's thick atmosphere and hydrocarbon lakes) have underscored how broad the range of potentially habitable environments may be.

Although the hypothesis of a deliberate cosmic silence of advanced extraterrestrials is also a possibility, the failure of the SETI program to announce an intelligent radio signal after four decades of effort has at least partially dimmed the prevailing optimism of the beginning of the space age. 

Intelligent life most likely exists out there somewhere in the darkness of the universe, but where this life exists is not known. SETI hopes that one day we may receive a message from another species.


Jill Tarter: Why the Search for Alien Intelligence Matters
Accelerate our Search for Cosmic Company

The SETI Institute's Jill Tarter makes her TED Prize wish: to accelerate our search for cosmic company. Using a growing array of radio telescopes, she and her team listen for patterns that may be a sign of intelligence elsewhere in the universe.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes and "Lost" producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts.

Search for ET

The serious science which is bringing us to the edge of discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

Are we alone? SETI--the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence--is a privately funded project using radio telescopes and optical telescopes to scan the stars for signals.

NASA is planning missions to Mars, Jupiter's sixth moon, Europa, and Saturn's largest moon, Titan, to look for primitive, microbial life in ice concentrations.

Whether we discover primitive or intelligent life, how will that knowledge impact humankind's view of itself?

Cutting-edge computer graphics are used to bring the universe down to earth to show what life would be like on other planets, and to imagine what kind of life forms might evolve in alien atmospheres.

Notwithstanding, the unproven belief in extraterrestrial beings is voiced (not as a hypothesis) in pseudoscience, conspiracy theories in popular places like 'Area 51'.

Emboldened critics view the search for extraterrestrials as unscientific, despite the fact that the SETI program is not the result of a continuous, dedicated search, but instead utilizes what resources and manpower it can, when it can. Furthermore, the SETI program only searches a limited range of frequencies at any one time.

In the words of SETI's Frank Drake:

"All we know for sure is that the sky is not littered with powerful microwave transmitters".

Drake has also noted that it is entirely possible that advanced technology results in communication being carried out in some way other than conventional radio transmission.

At the same time, the data returned by space probes, and giant strides in detection methods, have allowed science to begin delineating habitability criteria on other worlds, and to confirm that at least other planets are plentiful, though aliens remain a question mark.

The Wow! signal, from SETI, remains a speculative debate.

V Miniseries

A race of aliens arrive on Earth in a fleet of 50 huge, saucer-shaped motherships, which hover over major key cities across the world.

They reveal themselves on the roof of the United Nations building in New York City, appearing human but requiring special glasses to protect their eyes and having a distinctive resonance to their voices.

Referred to as the Visitors, they reach out in friendship, ostensibly seeking the help of humans to obtain chemicals and minerals needed to aid their ailing world.

In return, the Visitors promise to share their advanced technology with humanity. The governments of Earth accept the arrangement but the Visitors have evil intentions for humans on the planet Earth.

It is believed that if an alien species introduced themselves to humans that there are only two outcomes that would occur: The Visitors will either be friendly or evil.

In 2000, geologist and paleontologist Peter Ward and astrobiologist Donald Brownlee published a book entitled Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe.

In it, they discussed the Rare Earth hypothesis, in which they claim that Earth-like life is rare in the universe, while microbial life is common.

Ward and Brownlee are open to the idea of evolution on other planets which is not based on essential Earth-like characteristics (such as DNA and carbon).

The possible existence of primitive (microbial) life outside of Earth is much less controversial to mainstream scientists, although, at present, no direct evidence of such life has been found. Indirect evidence has been offered for the current existence of primitive life on Mars. However, the conclusions that should be drawn from such evidence remain in debate.

Strategies in the Search for ET

Presented by Seth Shostak, SETI Institute.

The scientific hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence is now into its fifth decade, and we still haven't uncovered a confirmed peep from the cosmos. For that matter, we still dont know if life at any level of intelligence exists beyond Earth.

Could this mean that finding aliens, even if theyre out there, is a project for the ages one that might take centuries or longer?

The preferred technique used to hunt down cosmic company is to look for persistent radio signals or laser flashes from nearby star systems. But could this be a flawed strategy?

In this presentation, well consider some strategies that new SETI experiments might consider, as well as discuss why its possible that we might find evidence of sophisticated intelligence within only a few decades.

Seth is the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, in Mountain View, California. He has an undergraduate degree in physics from Princeton University, and a doctorate in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology. For much of his career, Seth conducted radio astronomy research on galaxies, and has published approximately sixty papers in professional journals.

He has written several hundred popular magazine and Web articles on various topics in astronomy, technology, film and television. He lectures on astronomy and other subjects at Stanford and other venues in the Bay Area, and for the last six years, has been a Distinquished Speaker for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He is also Chair of the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Study Group. Every week he hosts the SETI Institutes science radio show, Are We Alone?

Seth has edited and contributed to a half dozen books. He has also been the principal author of four: Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life, Life in the Universe (textbook with Jeff Bennett), Cosmic Company (with Alex Barnett), and, most recently, Confessions of an Alien Hunter.